Adolescence is an awkward time — full of miscues and clumsy conversations, budding relationships and bodies and the establishment of a grandiose social pecking order that haunts many people for the rest of their lives.
In generations past, it was easy to run away from the craptasticness of it all when you grew up.
Save for the occasional reunion, after graduation, you pretty much never had to see the people with whom you went to grade school and high school again.
But for Generation X, a curious thing happened. Those people from our past went away…and then they came back.
We lost track of each other as we grew into adults. But then, thanks to the creation (and subsequent world domination) of Facebook, we were introduced to each other all over again — a process that has taught me three valuable lessons about growing up and growing old.
1. Everything evens out.
Growing up is painful because it is a time in which we publicly try on a series of personas in front of the world in hopes of determining who we really are.
This often results in us being sorted into social castes. Whether you called these groups “the popular people,” “the brains,” “the jocks” or “the outcasts” – the sorting process always seems to remain the same.
And, though our parents likely assured us that these labels would fall away and things would even out when we grew older…
- The awkward boy might grow into a handsome man.
- The popular girl might burn through that beauty.
- The outcast might find the perfect place to fit in.
…they really couldn’t offer us any proof that this would happen.
But Facebook can.
Yes, people put their best face forward on Facebook, but, beneath that carefully wrought veneer, there is a somewhat honest portrait of a person’s life on there.
And what I’ve learned from those portraits is that, while life may not always be fair, it IS even.
As I’ve been reintroduced to the people with whom I grew up, I’ve seen firsthand that they, like me, have all experienced both joy and pain, growth and loss. Some seem totally different, some seem exactly the same, and all of them seem to just be doing the best they can with the life they’ve been given.
2. Memory is a fickle thing.
When I’m catching up with a person from my past on Facebook, I’m often struck by how subjective memory is.
For instance, someone will say, “Remember when we were in 10th grade and [insert horribly embarrassing memory of theirs, the weight of which they have carried for decades]?”
And nine times out of ten…I have no memory of what they are talking about.
I remember MY horribly embarrassing moments…every last excruciating one of them. But beyond that, that time in my life is enveloped in the kind of narcissistic haze that teenagers specialize in manufacturing.
Everything that was such a big deal back then, was really only a big deal TO ME. Everyone else was too wrapped up in their own big deals to have anything but a vague recollection of my issues (the memories of which can usually be summed up in a sentence or less, like, “you sure wore a lot of black back then.”)
What I’ve learned from these conversations is that it makes no sense to rest too much of your adult sense of self on the skeleton of your childhood memories. Yes, those years in your life were formative, but they were also fickle, and you have the option to revisit and reinterpret them.
3. People will surprise you.
It’s very tempting to categorize whole portions of your life with simple labels, (“junior high was hell,” “college was awesome,” etc.) but, as adults, we know that nothing is ever that black and white.
As I’ve reconnected with people from my past on Facebook, I have been reminded of all of the shades of gray in my life that I tend to overlook…
- Some people have shared memories that have caused them to think more highly of me that I ever have thought of myself.
- Some remember small gestures of mine that made an impact on their life, but which I had written off as unimportant.
- Some, whom I have hurt, have had the grace to invite me back into their lives with a forgiveness that I assumed I would not have deserved.
In short, they have taught me more about myself than I would have ever thought possible and reminded me that life is a messy, beautiful and surprising adventure…and Facebook, but a tool we can use to reflect upon it.
In spite of its many flaws, as one who has lived with gaps in my memory, and then with those gaps filled (something that no one else but my tiny, cynical and resilient generation of Xers will ever experience) I am thankful for Facebook and for the people it has pulled back into my life.
My adulthood wouldn’t be as rewarding, interesting or fun without either one.